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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Day 68: Talkin bout a revolution

After making our fame and fortune we retreated down the coast to the nearest slice of La Francais that we could find. Of course in our case we were still in Tamil Nadu, the heat was unbearable and there were considerably more men in dhoti (think: table cloth round the waist) than berets.

We had made it to Ponicherry and, we are sorry to report, that it was not très French.

That said; we were lucky enough to arrive just in time for a openair concert by Sam Smala (big time french gypsie jazz 5-piece) which was great and concluded in a call to dance. A call that was met by what is the correct collective noun here..? a horde? a wrap? a bandana of french hippies, yes; a bandana of french hippies that emerged from the night and funked out the rest of the set.

We also visited Auroville, a universal township founded by a lady known only as "the mother" built for the progress of humanity towards its splendid future by bringing together people of goodwill and aspiration for a better world.
In reality it's a nice town built around The Matrimandir, a giant gold golf ball - I'm sorry - "a symbol of the Divine's answer to man's inspiration for perfection."
It's not exactly flying the flag for successful communism but, still, I wouldn't invite Chairman Jintao around for a guided tour.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Day 62: Fame!

Have we learned how to live forever? Have we learned how to fly - high? ...will anybody even remember our names?

Truthfully: no. But that is not to say that in the last three days Team 365 have featured in no less than two more Bollywood hits.

That's right folks: we're basically famous.

On Monday we secured the lucrative positions of "background scientists" on blockbuster-budget film Robo. No white coats here though - we were only bringing our dulcet English tones to the dubbing desk i.e. we wandered a "conference hall" around feigning interest in a humanoid robot and then, you know, spending some time in the studio laying down some lyrics*

But today - today - ooh let me tell you, we got stuck in with all sorts of stardom! I answered phones, arranged meetings with 'the boss' and lay on a sunlounger next to one of the 'Nadu's biggest stars. Rob kept his Bollywood speaking part at an impressive 100% swearing statistic as he typed numbers into a laptop, paused and swore in faux frustration (x2)

I do not wish to exaggerate our importance in the film (whose name we, very upsettingly cannot pronounce and therefore remember) BUT we owned those scenes; take a look at the photos, you'll see close-ups galore and a man whose job it was to maintain my "wet look". That is to say after insisting I change into shorter shorts; someone was enlisted to pour water over me between takes.

So. There you have it. We can leave India safe in the knowledge that Bollywood wants us in the foreground, the background and even just our voices.

See you at Oscars darling, yes sweetie, fabulous, fabulous, mwah!

three stardom five

*lyrics AKA background noise...why get tied down in accuracies?

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Day 52-59 BLESS Nursery and Primary School

For the last six days, Team 365 has had the honour and the privilege to spend time at BLESS (Beacon Literacy Education Service Society) - the only Primary and Nursery school to provide free education for the poor children in the Inugur area of Tamil Nadu.

For those of you who don't know; we were there in particular because the Primary School building was built in memory of Timothy Pruss, one of Rob's close friends, who suddenly and tragically died in 2005, at 18 years old.

When we first arrived we were met with a deluge of uniformed youngsters, a frenzy of waves and shouts of 'hello!"'s and "how are you?"'s. This gave us a chance to practice our Tamil, which was met mostly with giggles and the answers (well pronounced) in English. By the end of the week this greeting, much to the relief of the staff no doubt, would calm to some hi-fives and casual "hi Kat/Rob"'s.

On that first morning we went to the Primary School foyer and saw the plaque that declared the building open with a photo of Tim hanging above it. The happiness of the children, the atmosphere in the school and the memory of a lost friend was more than touching. Especially when we were welcomed by two children with bouquets of flowers grown in the grounds and introduced as "friends from England". As we stood, humbled, with watery eyes Senthil (our wonderful host and Secretary of BLESS) put his arm around Rob. "Don't worry" he said "Your friend lives on". And in the most incredible way possible, we could see that this was true.

In our time there we were happy to see some of the older students learning English, science and the intricacies of long subtraction (a class in which Rob even learned something - he forgot that you borrowed one).

Some of the younger students, however, weren't so happy to see us and on a few occassions our presence was seen to bring on a mexican-wave of crying. Senthil assured us that this was because the term was new and many children weren't used to being away from home yet. Furthermore, the sight of smiling white folk in the area probably brought back memories of doctors, and injections.

We were even able to take to the chalkboard and lead a class in a receital of the alphabet. We're happy to report that there is now 20-odd kindergarden students who are one step closer to mastering Incy-Wincy Spider - with the hand actions, of course (they already have I'm a teapot, London Bridge is falling down and an adorable rhyme called Chubby Cheeks that they performed, bursting with joy)

Our stay with the school was brought to a wonderous end with a Saturday lunch with the staff and Senthil. We spoke about the existing 264 students and the aspirations of BLESS to increase this by 50 each year to reach 1000 students - both Primary and Secondary - by 2020.

We've seen first hand what the generous donations that Tim's parents - Tony and Mary Pruss - and Chigwell - Tim's former school - can do. To make these expansion plans a reality BLESS would need to build a new administrative building and extra classrooms.

For us, this visit is the start of a long path of involvement with an amazing organisation. If you would like to make a donation, please do get in touch and we will be delighted to point you in the right direction.

Lastly, if we could say a special thanks to the Quinn's, the Pruss', Senthil and all of the BLESS staff without whom this, the most important and inspiring week of our trip thus far, would not have been possible.

Many thanks, om shanti
Team 365

Day 52-59: Smells like team spirit

Though our time spent at BLESS Nursey and Primary School (as above) was the focus of our time spent in Tamil Nadu, we were delighted to be staying in the peaceful Saccidananda Ashram. Here we were able to dip our toes into a way of life so totally different to that which either of us had experienced before.

Around our school time table we attended prayers each morning, afternoon and evening before (delicious, simply amazing) meals. We even had the privilidge of speaking with Brother Martin, a focused yet serene man, about the Ashram's Hindu-tradition-meets-Christian-faith practices and religion and spirituality in a wider context.

Did we experience a religious epiphany? Have we sold all of our worldly goods? and is Rob now sporting a monks tonsure haircut? The short answer is no.

But have our eyes been opened to a new perspective and a direction down which we'll be exploring within ourselves in the coming months? We hope so, yes.

Now we are back in the hustle and bustle of India's east coast writing from the sweltering heat of Mamallapuram. We're happy to be on the road again with lessons learned and questions still to answer, ready to continue this incredible adventure.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Day 47&48: The boat that rocked

"All aboard!" was the captain's call
And on the Ushas stood one and all
We were ready to depart
From the dock and into the heart

Of Kerala's back waters - but it wasn't easy
To negotiate our trip with 'agents'; dishonest and sleazy
But a deal had been made and we meandered out
To see what the fuss was all about

The river network there was vast, some narrow and winding
Some busy and wide, as we were finding
Along the banks, life went on as normal
Kids went to school in uniforms so cute and formal

Menfolk fished, to catch what they could
And animals grazed while palm trees stood
And swayed in the breeze, calm as if sleeping
Until the monsoon came and they seemed to be weeping

On the upper deck we passed the day
Travelling in the most relaxing way
Drinks were prepared and delicious food served
We felt like stars; much more than we deserved

After dinner, a glorious sunset
We toasted, with beers, to the great friends we'd met
It was over to soon though, all did agreee
And by early next morning; back to reality

Such "once in a life time" events, we're happy to say
Seem to be coming thick and fast, our way
But we treasure each one, and thank you for reading
Because who knows which way our next adventure is leading?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Day 42: Ootalicious

Ooh la la! Well, didn't one of India most picturesque hill stations treat us well?

It did indeed - after a terrifying ride, think 39 hairpin bends to get us over 3,000 meters above sea level (we did see a mother and baby elephant though...) in the Nilgiri hills, we arrived in lovely - cool - Ooty.

Here I discovered just how much I appreciate bizare artistic creations when they are taken very seriously by their creator. For example; the Thread Garden, which it's own signs profess it to be 'a world wonder' was, in reality, about 15 meters of "garden"; "plants" made only by hand, wound thread, strictly no needle, strictly no paint. The view of which was only obscured by the owner and mastermind of this, which had taken 12 years and 50 artists to produce, who insisted on repeating the above whenever possible.

We also visited Ooty's ode to Madame Tussauds; and therein lay a collection that opened with Gandi, included obscure Indian military personnel, Mother Terrasa, Jesus and ended with a wax-work life size demonstration of why not to drink and drive a scooter. Pictures available via the Photobucket link (below)

It seemed apt therefore to leave Oooty on the very kitch-sounding Minature Railway. One of the main tourist attractions in Ooty (I if thread flowers and wax road accidnts weren't enough!) the short journey out did behold us some breath-taking views into the simmering heat of Kerala below.

Off went the jumpers, on came the relentless sweating; we were back in India-proper - but this time we'd met the Monsoon.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Not another 'Top 5' list: Things not to say in India

1. I arrived in Delhi this morning, this is my first time in India
Save yourself the breath and the bother and just hand that crisp wad of notes to the first friendly local that offers his assistance.

2. Here, have some food instead
Ah no, no, no...these beggar children aren't putting their tiny dirty hands to their stomachs, then their mouths and then out to you because they're hungry. Their parents and pimps are feeding them just fine - put that food away and show them some money, stupid.

3. Oh, the West Indies are playing well, aren't they?
Though this may be the case, no self-respecting, cricket-loving India is going to enjoy this kind of verbal slap in the face.

4. Which was is [insert any town/city name here]?
Don't worry! No need to ask this one because you are always already on the right road, you just need to "straight go'' (follow emphatically pointing finger) and you are - usually - exactly 5km away. Who needs a map, eh?

5. No, I'm not married
Yes you are. For the ease of all verbal interactions and to save any females from unwanted propositions; you are married.